THE KING'S CUP 2019 opener between India and Curacao is just a day away, and given the enormity of the occasion, the excitement and optimism in the Blue Tigers unit is palpable.
"We can feel the excitement on the players' faces. They are excited about playing together for the first time as a group. I sincerely hope they will enjoy the football we will play," Head coach Igor Stimac, who took charge of the Blue Tigers last month, stated on the eve of the match.
The 23-member squad was selected after a preparatory camp in Delhi and iconic striker Sunil Chhetri felt “the mood in the team is positive” with the players “pushing each other to get better.”
He stated: "The camaraderie between the players is really good. I'm glad to see the boys gelling well, pushing each other to get better, and inculcating a number of good habits."
As many as six players are part of the Indian senior team for the first time and Chhetri lauded them for their achievement. "I see a lot of desire among the new boys. Who knows, a few boys could start for the senior team against Curacao. So it will be a huge moment for them. I remember how I felt when I made my debut and it's truly magical, a moment you never forget. I wish them all the luck and really hope they do well."
Chhetri himself stands on the cusp of becoming India's highest cap winner of all-time when he takes the pitch against Curacao. While he mentioned that he is not thinking about the record, coach Stimac said that he “hopes his players will make it an unforgettable moment for Sunil.”
"It's an important game for Sunil. I am sure all players will put in an extra effort into the game to make it an unforgettable one for him. Hopefully we can get a positive result," the Croatian said.
"The Curacao players are experienced with a number of players playing in Europe. Technically, they are of a higher class than us on an individual basis. We need to draw the advantage as a team from it. We will have our chances and I hope the players will show up, work, behave, and finish the game as one unit," Stimac mentioned.
Midfielder Pronay Halder declared that "we respect Curacao as opponents.”
“They have players who play at a different level. However, such matches motivate me. But we can never get overawed. We have matured as a team and need to stick to what the Coach wants us to. The match will be tough,” he maintained.
The Head Coach also mentioned that more than the result it will be important to see how the players adapt to the new system.
"We are not putting any pressure on the players. More than the result, it is more important to see how the players have adapted to the stuff on which we have been working on, and how much they have advanced."
"Tomorrow, it's more about how we play. We have to build a team and it's for us to show how we can play. The result is important but for us, it is critical to show how much we can assimilate the information given to us by the coach and produce it on the pitch."
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu also mentioned about the “tough challenge.”
“The kind of players they have in their ranks – all of whom play at the highest level speaks about their quality. But we shouldn’t be afraid of them. We need to stick together as a team and make it tough for them.”
Chhetri summed it up perfectly.
"I want the coach stays satisfied to as much as possible of how we are understanding what he wants. My main focus right now with the new coach it to be sync with the coach as soon as possible, and as less time as possible. On our way to do that we definitely want to win games. No team ever plays to lose, and neither do we."
The match kicks-off at IST 2pm at the Chang Arena in Buriram, and will be telecast live on Star Sports 3, and Hotstar. Curacao for the record are ranked 82 in the latest FIFA World Ranking, while India are on 101.
AIFF media release